This article was originally included in trial magazinepublished by the American Association for Justice.
Most law firms rely on outside consultants or agencies for website development and online marketing support. Unfortunately, not all providers are transparent. Knowing the right questions (and who to hire) can be challenging if you’re not well versed in digital marketing. Below are five important truths that are often not revealed until it’s too late.
1 – You don’t actually “own” your website
Your company’s website is an asset in which you have probably invested a lot of money and time. It’s important to ensure ownership, possibly beyond your current agency relationship. Portability is not guaranteed, and if you understand the content management system (CMS) your site is built on, you will know how easily the site can be moved in the future.
Agencies build websites on either a proprietary system or an open source CMS like WordPress. If your website is on a proprietary system, you probably can’t host it anywhere else. Although you “own” the graphics and design, you do not own the underlying code that makes the website work. Without this, your website will have to be built from scratch to turn your design back into a working website. It’s also important to understand any license restrictions related to content or images used on your website.
A true understanding of ownership allows for greater flexibility and control over your company’s web presence. If you’re not willing to invest in a new website every time you switch vendors, insist on an open-source CMS.
2 – Your project is outsourced
Great websites are being built all over the world. However, it’s generally good to know who exactly will be designing, coding, populating, and managing your website design project. Just because an agency tells you the website will be designed in-house doesn’t mean they won’t outsource part of the project.
An in-house team generally provides a higher level of security and communication, and changes can be processed faster without having to accommodate drastically different time zones and team schedules. It’s also beneficial to be able to speak directly to the designers and programmers involved in your project to avoid a phone game.
3 – SEO takes time
This fact is frustrating for both agencies and law firms. Unfortunately, there is really no way around it. Three to six months is a common estimate, but best results can often take twelve to twenty-four. It’s important to remember that content needs to be written and optimized, crawled by search engines, indexed, and ultimately reflected in positive results. The good news is that this process has gotten dramatically faster in recent years, although it’s still excruciatingly slow compared to paid search or purchased leads.
It is worth noting that incremental progress is visible much faster. Whoever works with you should be able to provide regular reports detailing improvements and highlighting any progress your site is making. While traffic and leads usually don’t increase until Rankings can be achieved on the first pageit’s a long road from obscurity to page one, and that road should be well documented.
4 Increasing traffic does not replace increasing leads
Website reports can be populated with a variety of metrics that describe your company’s online presence. While virtually anything can be tracked, organic reports often include Google rankings, website traffic, and leads generated. So while your ultimate goal is probably to retain more customers, achieving that goal requires your website to generate leads. This will happen as a result of more organic traffic through improved rankings.
Reports can be misleading when increased traffic doesn’t result in increased lead volume. This can happen when your website is not reaching the right audience. We often see this when websites rank nationally for searches despite the company’s local audience. This increased traffic can have additional benefits, but it’s important to recognize when the increased traffic isn’t serving your primary goal.
The best way to avoid this problem is to find the signal in the noise. Insist on reports, or at least a summary, that contain only actionable data that your organization fully understands. It’s easy to get bogged down in numbers or be misled by secondary metrics that don’t actually meet your goals.
5 – Ultimately, compliance issues are your problem
Most lawyers are familiar with their ethical obligations when it comes to advertising, but can you say the same about your marketing agency?
In addition to your state’s professional code of conduct, attorneys are increasingly encountering compliance issues when it comes to privacy laws and accessibility.
Half of all states have recently passed privacy laws or are considering privacy laws by their state legislatures. These laws, designed to protect consumers, require certain websites that collect personally identifiable information (like names, email addresses, and IP addresses — a staple of most legitimate websites) to make certain disclosures. Unfortunately, many digital marketing agencies have not kept up with these regulations and do not offer their law firm clients dynamic privacy policies or cookie consent tools.
Another important consideration is whether your company’s website is compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). One in four adults in the United States lives with a disability, and millions of people use assistive technology to access the Internet, making the need for an accessible website more important than ever. Unfortunately, some agencies downplay the importance of an accessible website. Your careless approach can result in missed business opportunities and, worse, legal problems for your practice.
Before beginning a project, make sure your agency is familiar with compliance rules and regulations.